The Tiger Wakes: Rotterdam Returns with Risky Program
By Christian Gaines
The tiger wakes in this bleak and peaceful harbor town, and the 28th
edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (January 27th –
February 7th) fills every available theater — and pub — with hordes of
eager filmgoers. For nightly cocktail hours honoring guest directors,
late-night parties and a plethora of other social activities serve to
make this festival accessible to both film buffs and pundits from all
corners of the global film industry.
Once again, the festival provides a striking program of world cinema
while maintaining an efficient and stimulating environment in which to
see it. Rotterdam programs films with a utilitarian zeal, often
eschewing predictable studio picks, and gambling with audience sentiment
to find and test true discoveries. It is a serious festival in the best
sense of the word. Exemplifying this pioneering spirit is the choice of
Garin Nugroho's "Leaf on a Pillow" from Indonesia, as the opening night
film. Such a choice would be hard to imagine at Berlin or Cannes which,
like so many festivals, like to rev up the publicity machine with
sprinklings of stardust.
In Rotterdam, the IFFR tiger logo is everywhere, never bolder than on
the cover of the program guide. Flowery poster art would just get in the
way of the serious business of watching films. The program is relevant
and intuitive, encompassing the best of new cinema from established
industries and the fledgling work of developing countries.
As with most European festivals, most, but not all, of the U.S. entries
have seen theatrical distribution in North America, with a few curios
begging explanation. But it is the exhaustive thoroughness of the
program which gives the IFFR its winning edge and workhorse shoulders,
not to mention the thousands of buyers, sellers, programmers,
journalists, and leather-clad Dutch movie nuts disappearing into the
Pathé cinema complex to confront the world.
Leading the pack of over 250 offerings are the 14 films in the Tiger
Awards Competition. Highlights include Austria's promisingly titled
"Slidin' Shrill Bright World", "Barrio" from Spain's Fernando Leon de
Aranoa and the world premiere "Jesus Is a Palestinian" from the
Netherlands, which has been enjoying patriotic local buzz. In addition,
noteworthy events include the world premiere of Mary Kuryla's "Freak
Weather" from the U.S., the Fortissimo-handled "Terra Nova" from
Australian Paul Middleditch and Christopher Nolan's "Following" which
garnered U.S. distribution last week at Slamdance and has its European
premiere in Rotterdam.
Although also scattered in competition, films which have received
support from the Hubert Bals Fund make up an intriguing section of 15
films from developing countries. Some 200 film projects have received
modest but consistent support from the fund in the last 10 years,
providing a crucial missing link for filmmakers.
Films like "The May Lady" (Iran), "Courage" (Peru), "Kumar Talkies"
(India), the world premiere of "The Call of the Oboe" from Brazil, the
Cannes-pleaser "The Apple" from Iran's Samira Makhmalbaf, and continuing
the strong showing of South-East Asia cinema, "From Jemapoh to
Manchester" from Malaysia and the world premiere of "Kuldesak" from
Next, the matter-of-fact main program, boasting a mind-boggling 112
feature films in a labyrinthine game of cinematic connect-the-dots. It
is hard to do justice to the program in this limited space but some
highlights include the world premiere of Mark Edlitz's "The Eden Myth"
from the U.S., Philippe Grandieu's "Sombre" (France), the
Austrian/Japanese co-production "Milk," "Gonin"-director Ishii Takashi's "Black Angel Vol. 2", and more familiar Toronto fare like the widely
praised "Run, Lola, Run" from Germany and Don McKellar's smashing "Last
Night," from Canada. Also intriguing is the wry "Maiden Work," from
China, and sound U.S. entries like "A Simple Plan," "Rushmore" and "Very
Bad Things." A massive collection of short films in the section runs the
gamut from Stacey Holman's "Girl Talk" to a Wong Kar-wai Motorola ad
shot by Christopher Doyle.
French director Catherine Breillat ("36 Fillette", "Sale Comme Un Ange")
presents the world premiere of her new film "Romance" along with a
retrospective of her work. Also receiving retrospectives are Italian
collaborators Daniel Cipri and Franco Maresco and Iranian innovator
Abolfazl Jalili ("Dance of Dust, A True Story").
Other genres given their due in the spirit of history and comprehensive
representation include 25 films from the former Eastern bloc, a wicked
collection of Thai crime films programmed by Asian film expert Tony
Rayns, and a 70-odd film program examining the effects of the digital
revolution on the art and craft of filmmaking. All this combined with
the most all-encompassing collection of art installations dealing with
film, television, the Internet and architecture, make the Rotterdam
Festival a unique fixture on the international festival circuit.
[Christian Gaines is director of the Hawaii International Film